(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Pedro Ohlsen, the son of Peter Ohlsen and the grandson of old Per Ohlsen, is not like either his father or his grandfather. They tended to their businesses like shrewd, practical men. Pedro, in contrast, is a dreamer. Scolded from morning to night by his father and his schoolfellows, he begins to seek out the poor children in the community for companions, among them a spritelike girl named Gunlaug, whom people call the fisher maiden.

When Peter dies, he leaves enough money for his widow and Pedro to live simply without working. Pedro devotes his time to flute playing. He and the fisher maiden separate after a quarrel; she thinks him a weakling and leaves the town. Nine years later, she returns with a child, Petra, a little girl who also becomes known as the fisher maiden.

One day Petra, who is as audacious as her mother was, steals apples from a tree belonging to Pedro. He catches her and identifies her as the child of his lost love. When Petra escapes, she tells her mother of the encounter. Gunlaug tells her never again to speak to Pedro.

Hans Odegaard, the pastor’s son, asks permission to teach Petra to read, and she learns rapidly under his guidance. A tragedy befalls Hans’s best friend, and, in his grief, Hans cannot be persuaded to take up his career. His indifference is a bitter thing for his father, the old pastor. Petra weeps when Hans leaves the village.

Young men come to woo Petra, among them Gunnar, the sailor, and a stranger who keeps his name from her and mystifies her with strange songs and tales. Finally, he gives her a...

(The entire section is 649 words.)